The Law & The Planner
Beware of Children At Meetings
Including youth programs raises a host of legal issues
by Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.April 1, 2012
Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.
A senior partner of the Chicago, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton Ltd., specializing in meetings and hospitality law. E-mail questions to him at email@example.com.
• Vet all child-care providers with the same care you would if your own child were going to attend the program.
• Site inspect the area or venue where the children's programs will be held with even more due diligence than you do for venues you choose for adults.
• Double-check all insurance coverage for your organization as well as the vendor providing the child care. Ask to see proof of insurance.
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Choosing a family-friendly destination likely will spur attendees to bring their kids along, especially if the timing is right for spring break or a summer trip. Any time children might attend your event, your antenna must go up. Even more so if you plan to provide youth programs as part of the agenda.
Liability Issues When I get calls from meeting professionals telling me they want to do a program for minors, my first question is, "Why?" The liability issues with hosting such programs are extensive, and the ability to shift that liability away from your organization presents legal challenges as well. Sometimes it becomes a matter of what you do with those who are under the age of 18 vs. what those under the age of 18 want to do.
Don't use volunteers to run a children's program -- unless you are prepared to go through background checks, conduct regular due diligence of the site, provide security for the well-being of the kids, etc.
Also, beware of the underage drinker. When older kids join the trip, the danger is that they might try to sneak into the bar. Do you have adequate liquor liability in place for receptions and other programs? Are age limitations in place?
Get the Answers If you are planning to retain an organization to conduct your youth programs, here are some things to ask and do to minimize the liability exposure to your organization.
• Do you have program policies in place?
• Is the venue regularly used for youth programs?
• What qualifications does the service provider have?
• What requirements are in place for parents to drop off and pick up the child?
• What security measures are in place?
• What is the reputation of the organization providing the service?
• In the contract, what does the child-care supplier promise regarding the qualifications of those who will be providing the services to your organization?
• Who will be in charge during your event? What is his/her experience?
• How will you inform parents/guardians about the details of the program, the security being provided and the limitations of your liability?
• Have you checked local laws to be sure the program will be in compliance?
• What are the program's objectives that you want to accomplish, even if it's as simple as providing straight day care?
• What are the terms and conditions of your release and assumption of liability agreements, noting that children older than 18 can opt out even without the consent of a parent or legal guardian?
• Will there be any off-site activities? If so, what are they and what are the risk issues associated with these activities?
• Will there be transportation away from the site?
• What is the crisis management plan if an emergency situation occurs?
• Do you have adequate insurance in place to cover you and your organization?
• Do the vendors have adequate insurance?
If you have any questions, get good legal advice before you start the planning process.